I was driving in Portland with my kids.
As we slowed down, I saw a man standing on the street corner with a sign that read: “Homeless. Hungry. Need $18 for a shower and some place to stay. PLEASE HELP.”
I saw this situation as a perfect opportunity to teach my son Emmett, at age 6, an important lesson.
Not only am I going to give this man money – I’m also going to impart some wisdom to my son. Since our family is so fortunate and so blessed that we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to shower, or whether we’ll have a place to sleep tonight, or whether or not there’s $18 to spend – I’m going to teach my son what it means to be generous and compassionate.
I pulled the car to the side, came to a stop, and opened the window. I gave the man a twenty dollar bill. (I’m not always so generous, but was here.) The man blessed me, I blessed him, the light turned green, and off Emmett and I went.
As I didn’t want to hit Emmett over the head with a “moral of the story,” I decided not to discuss it at that time.
When we got home later, Emmett was busy drawing on a piece of paper. When he was finished, he held up the sign he’d created. It said: “Can you give me money?”
Ah, yes, Emmett had learned a lesson, all right. He learned that if you hold up a sign that says “Please give me money,” people will give you money.
Of course, this wasn’t the lesson I was trying to teach him. It’s a good lesson, but not the one I had spent $20 to teach.
This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes: “The meaning of communication is in the response elicited, regardless of intention.”
How true this is.
It doesn’t matter what we say, or what we do – the meaning of what we communicate ultimately lies in how it’s received by the recipient.
We may “mean well” by saying certain words, but if the receiving person is hurt by our words, then as far as they’re concerned, we said something hurtful. We may think we’re helping someone by taking some action on their behalf – but if they don’t see it as helpful, it may be effort wasted on our part.
And finally, we may think we’re teaching one lesson when we are actually teaching another.
This week’s spiritual-religious advice:
Pay attention to how your words and actions are received by others – that’s what really counts.